Vulnerability Management in Cybersecurity: A Comprehensive Guide

Anwita

Anwita

Feb 23, 2024

Vulnerability Management

In 2019, US government agencies found themselves in a thick soup after Russian intelligence exploited an untested software in their network by injecting a trojan. They remotely gained access to sensitive data, thanks to poor vulnerability management – even government systems can be a cyber attack victim. 

In this article, we learn how vulnerability management works and how you can harden your system against possible incidents.

What is vulnerability management? 

Vulnerability management is a continuous process that secures computer networks, systems, files, and applications from data breaches and cyberattacks by identifying and fixing security gaps.

How does vulnerability management work?

Vulnerability management depends on a plethora of tools or processes to address cyber threats. A robust vulnerability management system includes these components:

Asset management

IT infrastructures are made of a complex interconnection of tools, technologies, and people. As your business scales, it only adds to the complexity. An asset management and inventory helps you untangle this complex system and gain visibility. Better visibility is the key to understanding where vulnerabilities exist.

Vulnerability scanners

These are basically computer programs designed to identify security weaknesses in your networks or applications. Vulnerability scanners run tests to identify known and unknown security gaps like misconfiguration, weak passwords, poor access management, and the presence of shadow IT.

Patch management

Deploying anti-malware or similar security solutions is not enough to protect against continuously evolving threats. As these systems are designed to mitigate known threats, they may fail to identify high-risk vulnerabilities and contain new threats. 

Malicious actors design and deploy new types of attacks to circumvent barriers designed to counter threats. Security solutions continuously release versions of the software to include these in the blacklist. 

Patch management systems identify software or applications running on outdated versions to automatically patch them.

Vulnerability management process

Use this step-by-step comprehensive model to improve your organization’s security resilience, reduce the attack surface, and mitigate critical vulnerabilities. 

Step 1. Define a strategy

A proper strategy serves as a roadmap for your project, helps you ensure accountability, and sets the goal. 

In this step, we sort out the scope, identify stakeholders, define the legal obligations, and get acknowledgement from the management and stakeholders. 

1. Scope

Your vulnerability management process starts by defining the key processes and outlining the major gaps. Which systems or applications are the most vulnerable? How comprehensively should you assess them? You may also consider threats to assets stored on-premise components that cyber solutions cannot address. 

  • Document the systems undergoing the assessment, possible constraints, all stakeholders and their responsibilities, and their criticality in the process.
  • Determine the type of environment for analyzing and monitoring the assets and include stakeholder inputs.


2. Determine assessment methods 

Get a buy in from your management and stakeholders for every action item in the vulnerability management process. 

  • Take the methods required by the applicable industry regulations. For example, frameworks like PCI DSS or HIPAA require vendor approval for vulnerability assessment.
  • The methods that you have described in the scope should adequately address unanticipated vulnerabilities.
  • Some assessment methods may cause system downtime or disrupt business operations. Identify methods that have legal restrictions or may cause operational downtime.
  • Once you have eliminated the problematic methods, list down the final methods.


3. Resource and budget allocation 

Every stakeholder, from senior management and security administrators, all the way down to your organization’s individual departments and users, everyone should understand and agree to their roles and responsibilities. 

An important consideration while chalking out the budget is the scope. Take the priorities, limitations, and capabilities while setting the budget.

Step 2. Develop the strategy

Now that you have defined the strategy, the next step is to put the plan to action. 

1. Document your strategy

To put the plan to action, you need the right direction and define its intricacies. 

  • Build your vulnerability management team and take inputs from all functions
  • Coordinate with the risk management team to determine process execution
  • Define remediation timelines and a scale to measure the level of criticalities for each vulnerability (like low, medium, high, negligible)
  • Dedicate a centralized repository to document, track remediation efforts, and collect evidence
  • Develop a process to manage exceptions such as a risk assessment process or and define the role of management to handle the remediation
  • Define proactive activities like scanning for risks or conducting penetration tests

2. Define training requirements

To meet the requirements of your cyber security vulnerability management programs, conduct end user training and practitioner training. 

  • Train your employees and end users on how to avoid phishing attacks or browse securely to reduce the chances of an incident
  • Train your vulnerability management team and security administrators. Include certifications, guide for using tools, and procedures in your training program

3. Determine tools

Identify the vulnerability management tools to conduct a comprehensive assessment. 

  • Determine the tools for each method
  • Assess if these tools meet sufficiently meet your requirements
  • Communicate the finalized set of tools to the stakeholders
  • Review the tools periodically to check its efficiency
  • Create a process to manage exceptions. 

4. Identify sources of vulnerability information

Evaluate the best sources of vulnerability information.

  • Identify the assets used across the IT infrastructure. This includes model numbers for hardware, version numbers, for software, and component location
  • Identify the source of vulnerability information for the assets in use. Some potential courses are vendors, emailing lists, security services, and InfraGard

5. Develop a plan revision process

Change management is crucial to address new requirements. 

  • Identify the new changes introduced since the last review. Assess the new technologies, facilities, methods, people, process, and components that you have added since the last review. 
  • Determine the impact of these changes on your organization
  • Deploy or remove tools as necessary to conduct an effective vulnerability assessment

Sprinto helps you find and fix vulnerabilities in real time by systematically and continuously tracking them by its source. It alerts the right team members to patch and resolve them before it becomes an issue. 

Implement the strategy

Time to put words into actions. 

1. Conduct training session

The individuals should have the skills to execute the project. 

  • The individuals or teams should thoroughly understand the process related to their roles
  • They should also understand the tools, techniques, and methods to perform the assessment 

2. Conduct vulnerability scans

Coming to the most crucial part of the project, you can conduct the assessment in two parts: scans and assessments

  • Conduct a vulnerability scan. You can do this internally or via third party service providers
  • Conduct vulnerability assessments (also known as penetration tests) to gain a comprehensive insight into security gaps. 

3. Document the findings

Document your findings in a centralized repository. This step helps you pass external audit checks and serves as a database that helps security administrators make architectural decisions in the future. 

  • Include fields like discovery date, testing time, affected assets, priority, assigned owner, current status, source, analysis findings, closing date and time and category in your repository 
  • Since this data is highly sensitive, ensure only authorized users can access it

4. Categorize and prioritize

In this step, we do an impact analysis of the existing vulnerabilities. 

  • Determine if the vulnerabilities affect your daily operations
  • Determine the stakeholders responsible for mitigating and investigating the vulnerabilities
  • Prioritize the vulnerabilities based on the level of risk – accept, avoid, mitigate, or transfer

5. Manage exposure

Once you have identified and prioritized the vulnerabilities, determine the mitigation process

  • Based on the nature of your asset and the source of vulnerability, determine how to address the vulnerability. 
  • You can consider vendor managed solutions, implement a control to reduce the risk, or accept the risk if there is no practical or cost effective solution. Sometimes, a simple configuration change is sufficient. 
  • Periodically test your disposition method
  • Track and record the corrective actions that you have taken

Benefits of vulnerability management

A common misconception around vulnerability management is that it is an optional process. Most businesses don’t address security weaknesses unless compelled to due to a breach incident. This approach is a recipe for disaster. Here’s why you should prioritize vulnerability management.

To avoid incidents

Security should be a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one. Security incidents result in financial losses, eats up human bandwidth, and may damage reputation. Your tools and systems contain security gaps that malicious actors can exploit easily. Vulnerability management helps you identify and patch common vulnerabilities before disaster unfolds.

To comply with regulations

If you manage, process, or transmit sensitive customer data, security regulations like GDPR, CCPA, or HIPAA may be a compulsory obligation. 

These regulations require you to identify and patch existing security gaps to avoid breaches that may violate customer rights to privacy and confidentiality.

To operationalize workflows

Breaches result in system downtime, eat up engineering bandwidth, and increase time to market. By actively identifying security gaps, you can mitigate them before they cause operational damage using vulnerability management solutions.

Conclusion

Sprinto connects with your cloud to actively conduct network scans to identify security risks. It monitors your cloud services for non-compliance, assigns impact scores to each risk, and helps you protect your cloud environment.  

It conducts tests for third-party cloud solutions and patches system vulnerabilities using pre-defined SLAs as soon as they surface. Additionally, Sprinto partners with some of the most reputed VAPT partners globally. You can select one from the partner network per your requirements. 

Launch an effective vulnerability management program today.

FAQs

What is the difference between management and vulnerability assessment?

The key difference between management and vulnerability assessment is that your vulnerability management efforts are continuous while vulnerability assessment is a one-time evaluation of unknown vulnerabilities.

What are the main types of vulnerabilities?

These are the main types of vulnerabilities: 

  • Physical vulnerabilities
  • Software vulnerabilities
  • economic vulnerabilities
  • Social vulnerabilities
  • Environmental vulnerabilities 

What are the stages of risk-based vulnerability management?

The stages of risk-based vulnerability management are identification, prioritization, mitigation, and continuous improvement. 

Anwita

Anwita

Anwita is a cybersecurity enthusiast and veteran blogger all rolled into one. Her love for everything cybersecurity started her journey into the world compliance. With multiple certifications on cybersecurity under her belt, she aims to simplify complex security related topics for all audiences. She loves to read nonfiction, listen to progressive rock, and watches sitcoms on the weekends.

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